After years of denial by many in the Malayalam film industry, it has been now been found and noted by the Justice Hema Commission that sexual harassment is prevalent in the Malaylam film industry. This was found after detailed investigations by the Justice Hema Commission, set up by the Kerala government to look into the issues faced by women in the industry. The Commission has recommended that a tribunal be formed to investigate these issues.
“Casting couch exists in Malayalam cinema, which means sexual favours are demanded of women in exchange of opportunities to work in films,” Justice Hema tells TNM. “That is different from the sexual harassment happening in different fields of work -- not just actors but hairstylists, makeup artistes and others are also victims."
Workplace harassment, demanding of sexual favours for work opportunities and other forms of abuse exist in the Malayalam film industry, the Commission's report says.
The report was submitted to the Chief Minister’s office on Tuesday. Senior actor Sarada and former bureaucrat KB Valsala Kumari are the other members of the Commission. The Commission was formed after the Women in Cinema Collective had approached the Chief Minister in 2017, seeking to establish a panel to look into the issues faced by women in the industry.
Justice Hema adds that there are also other forms of harassment in the industry. "Junior artistes are not even allowed to sit on the set sometimes. Some don’t even get water or food. There would not be proper toilets. The production house may spend money to take care of everything but money misappropriations happen with mediators who come in between.”
Not just toilets, there are rarely any changing rooms for women. “Only the heroine of a film would get toilet facility. The others will have to suppress their toilet needs and often end up getting urinary infection,” says Valsala Kumari. Actor Parvathy, an active member of the WCC, has earlier fought for better sanitation provisions on the sets, only to be ridiculed by some in the industry.
The Commission that was set up to also find out about the wage disparity of male and female actors found this to be true as well. Says Valsala Kumari, “There is a huge difference in the remuneration offered to men and women. A man and a woman with the same number of years of experience, the same amount of hard work and excellence, would still be paid differently. Women are paid one-tenth to one-third of the remuneration offered to their male counterparts. And one-third is very rare, it is often much less.”
There are often no contracts either, except for the lead actors, she adds.
Hema says, “There are 10 to 15 powerful people who decide how everything is run. They can decide who should work and who should not. They can ban people they don’t like. The society will then ask why go to work in such an industry. But every person has a passion, that should be respected,” Justice Hema adds.
The only way out is to bring in law and constitute a tribunal, she says. “We are having discussions with the Chief Minister’s office for this. It is a very serious issue. Only law can help.”
(Casting couch is a euphemism for sexual harassment)